My honeymoon photos are ruined — thanks a lot, Target!

Alexey Laputin/Shutterstock
Question: I attempted to exchange a camera we purchased for our honeymoon, which turned out to be defective and ruined all of our honeymoon photos. We were told that because the camera had been on sale, and the item has since returned to its regular price that we would need to pay an additional $100 to exchange the defective item with the exact same model.

The guest services representative, loss prevention person and the team leader (who continuously told us she was the store manager) were extremely rude and condescending while informing us of this fact.

At first, we decided to sell the gift card we accepted online instead of a refund, taking a loss on the camera, repurchasing another camera from a reputable merchant and making absolutely sure that we never give Target another dime of our money.

But, in a last-ditch effort, I contacted Target through its Facebook page. I was provided with an 800-number, and after 15 minutes on “hold” I was told I needed to speak with the “gift card issues” department.

I spoke with a supervisor who told me she would not reduce the price to the original purchase price, since I accepted a gift card for the return. After attempting to explain that all I wanted was a simple exchange, and was unsure why that was so difficult, she thanked me for calling Target Guest Services and disconnected the call while I was mid-sentence. My wife and I will never be purchasing anything from Target again. — Tristan Caulfield, Memphis, Tenn.

Answer: I can’t think of any reason why a representative would hang up on a customer. Also, your request to exchange a faulty product for one that works is reasonable. The fact that Target had the item on sale and that it then reverted back to its regular price isn’t your problem.

But Target’s return policies are fair and appear to be evenly enforced (I know, because, ahem, I am a Target customer).

If you purchased your camera with a debit card, credit card, or have a store receipt, you have 30 days to return the merchandise, though there is an exception for holiday shopping and using your REDcard debit or credit card. If you didn’t qualify — say, you paid cash and lost your receipt — you would be offered a gift card for the amount you paid for the camera.

But that’s only if it was unopened. Here’s Target’s policy on electronics: “Items that are opened or damaged or do not have a packing slip or receipt may be denied a refund or exchange.”

Maybe no one adequately explained the policy to you, and then when you pushed for a product exchange, they simply hung up on you. Not good.

In reviewing your correspondence with Target, I see that a lot of the interaction happened either in person or by phone. Even a Facebook wall post can (and often is) deleted by a company. You need to get your request and a response in writing in order to protect yourself and establish a paper trail that proves you are dealing with the company.

You can start by emailing Target at this form. Failing that, you might try an appeal to one of the executives. The naming convention for emails is — it’s fairly easy to determine the rest.

At the risk of repeating myself, I don’t have a problem with Target’s refund policy. I do, however, take issue with “customer service” representatives disconnecting a call. The employees you spoke with may have handled your request by the book in terms of Target’s refund rules, but they dropped the ball when it came to customer service.

I contacted Target on your behalf. It issued a gift card for the difference between the camera’s sale price and current retail price. A simple apology would have sufficed, but you gratefully accepted the card.

Did Target offer Tristan Caulfield too much compensation?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • henare

    Why not test the camera before the honeymoon? So much drama could have been avoided up front …

  • EdB

    The way I read the story, the drama was not so much the pictures ruined by the camera, but the poor way Target treated them when it was discovered the camera had a problem. If you read the story, skipping the reference to honeymoon, “I attempted to exchange a camera we purchased, which turned out to be defective and ruined all of our photos.”, there is no other mention of that. It is all about Target’s attitude in what should have been a simple exchange.

  • EdB

    Chris, you mention the Target return/exchange policy in the story. Is there something in the policy that says no exchanges for defective products if it was on sale? What if, after purchasing a product at regular price, the price goes up. Are they going to demand you pay that difference for an exchange? Something about the way this happened doesn’t sound right. I have returned defective sale products to other stores for exchange and never ran into this type of issue. Is this something unique for Target?

  • HeyItsK

    Many times Target will offer a gift card with purchase as an inducement to purchase. If you return the item, its value is reduced by the amount of the gift card. Perhaps that comes into play, although I don’t see why that would affect an even exchange for a defective product.

  • BrianInPVD

    The OP seems to be conflating the responsibility of Target with the responsibility of the manufacturer. Some stores offer replacement of defective goods as a service to the customer, but the real responsibility lies with the manufacturer. Did they try to contact the company that made the camera?

  • andi330

    “I can’t think of any reason why a representative would hang up on a customer.”

    I can. Speaking as someone who worked in a customer service center (not for Target) for 6 years, the most common reason for hanging up on a customer was that the customer was shouting profanity and would not calm down, rather than attempting to have a reasonable conversation. Whether this was true of the OP I don’t know, as we have only his side of the story.

    Additionally, we don’t know how long the customer actually owned the camera. If it had been more than 30 days, he might have been better off dealing with the manufacturer, rather than Target. If the OP was outside the initial 30 day window for returns/exchanges and didn’t purchase the extended service plan, then he’s lucky he was offered anything at all by the store.

  • sdir

    My thoughts exactly. I thought it curious that while in-store, guest services, management AND loss prevention became involved. Wish I were a fly on the wall for that conversation.

  • john4868

    Sorry something doesn’t smell right on this one. Based on who the OP says was involved and how they reacted, I think there’s a whole other side to this story we’re not hearing. Anytime security becomes involved or a supervisor in a call center disconnects a call, I’m inclined to believe the customer has become abusive. Since both happened in this situation, it reinforces my impression. While its nice that Target paid $100 in extortion after the media contacted them, I think they paid too much.

  • BillCCC

    I think the compensation was alright. I am assuming that this is a digital camera. Normally you check photos after they are taken to see how they turned out. I am not sure how all of the photos could be ruined unless the customer used the wrong settings. Since there is no timeline in the story we don’t know if the attempted return was 30 days or 6 months.

    The store does not want to exchange a sale item and then have the customer go to another store and get a refund for the full price.

  • S E Tammela

    I have been involved in camera repair for many years and I happen to know of a similar case that happened in Australia which went to court (remember, our legal system is not entirely different from the USA). It was ruled that the onus was on the customer to ensure that the camera was working correctly because it was such an important event. And in fact, regardless of whether it’s an important event or not, when you purchase electronics, it’s YOUR job as the customer to make sure you got what you paid for – a working, complete camera.

    A customer should only be entitled to have a swap when the product is dead on arrival – that is, they’re back in the shop QUICKLY after purchase and it’s faulty straight out of the box. If you wait (or go on holidays) then that’s not the shop or the manufacturer’s problem, and you don’t get a swap, you get a repair just like any camera which breaks down.

  • Doug Marshak

    I would think the manufacturer would cover an exchange like-for-like. No reason to wrestle with Target.

  • TonyA_says

    Target Policy:
    The following items must be returned within 30 days: Computers,
    netbooks, laptops, eReaders, tablets, cameras, camcorders, digital audio
    players, GPS systems, video game hardware, personal DVD players, and
    no-contract cell phones. For these items purchased between 11/1 –
    12/25, the 30 day refund period will start on 12/26.

  • TonyA_says

    Next time buy the camera from Costco. 90 days no questions asked return policy.

  • Elmo Clarity

    That may be the case in Australia, but in the US, each state can have different consumer rights laws. Hard to really compare the two.

  • Alan Gore

    It looks as though Target treated this return as a discretionary return (“I just don’t like this product”) rather than a warranty return for defect.

    When you purchase a camera for a specific occasion, always make sure it works before you go. Now that cameras are digital and can be tested immediately after purchase, there’s no excuse. And for a one-time-only occasion like a honeymoon, always use a second camera as insurance against disaster. Your phone will in mist cases be adequate.

  • Elmo Clarity

    But they would still need the receipt for the refund and they would still only get back what they paid. If they don’t have a receipt, I doubt the store would give a refund.

  • Elmo Clarity

    My question was where in the policy does it state that there is no exchange on sale items. Based on what you posted, sounds like Target was pulling a TSA and making up rules as they go.

  • Elmo Clarity

    Only problem with that is you end up having to pay for packaging and shipping back to the manufacturer and the time for it to ship both ways.

  • sirwired

    If you don’t have a receipt and can’t look up the purchase, all you get is the lowest recent selling price back in the form of a gift card. (She wouldn’t have gotten a gift card at all if she had the receipt.) Most retailers work this way. They have no way of knowing what price you paid, and they aren’t going to swap out a full-price camera for one possibly purchased elsewhere for less.

  • sirwired

    She almost certainly didn’t have a receipt (which is why she got a gift card instead of a refund.) Undoubtedly they don’t do exchanges without one.

  • Daddydo

    You hit the “target” ( no pun intended-yes it was) on the head. I have 10 couples a week leaving for honeymoons and vacations and the first words of suggestion are to read your camera directions!. Make sure you know what you are doing.

    As for Target, I have been in great stores like my local and horrible service 35 miles up the road. It’s the world of miserable hiring abilities. It’s the service that makes a store.

  • Mel65

    This whole story is weird. I’ve returned things to Target w/ no problem with and without a receipt. Their system can pull up your purchases by the method you paid, even without a receipt and it’s very efficient. I also put myself thru college working at a department store return counter. Even exchanges are irrespective of item selling price. Store inventory for that item is the value regardless. There is something missing to this story, and it sounds like maybe the store doubted the item had been purchased there or something and the OPs must have gotten angry and loud to be treated so badly.

  • DeAnna Halewski

    This smells bad to me. Target is one of the easiest retailers to return items. I suspect it was past the 30 days, there was no receipt and the customer got abusive when they didn’t get exactly what they wanted.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Yes, I think this is a valid point. Consumers have been known to buy something on sale at one place and try to return it for full price somewhere else. But why they wouldn’t do a simple exchange is curious. Perhaps it was past 30 days AND she had no receipt. This isn’t Neiman’s we’re talking. It’s Target.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Even without a receipt, though? How are you supposed to prove when it was bought? And I’m wondering whether this new camera was actually a wedding gift, which is why there was no receipt?

  • Christopher Elliott

    I’m sure you’re right. In my last three Target cases (another one hasn’t been published yet) the retailer has refused to even acknowledge me emails. Instead, it has reached out directly to the customer without comment. I would be happy to publish Target’s side of the story — if it talked to me.

  • cahdot

    i have had issues with target on minor purchases like a battery operated peeler for my mom-in-law who has arthritis it never worked it kept falling apart they would not take it back even with the receipt..and told me to call a toll free number for help the sent me to a website for the manufacturer and i never got a response back from the manufact.. etc so i threw it out and only buy paper good etc there not anything needing batteries or a plug in

  • Jim Daniel

    I made my living as a photographer for many years, and still accept compensation ooccasionally.
    The simplest rule about taking photos is to make absolutely sure your equipment is working properly before shooting something important.
    This persons sounds like someone who buys a car on sale, haul it on a trailer to the track, and try to run it in a NASCAR event the first time they actully turn the key..

  • Andrew F

    1. “I am not sure how all of the photos could be ruined unless the customer used the wrong settings”. Here is HOW. I just sent a Sony Nex-3 for repair. Most photos in good lighting conditions had an out-of -focus stripe in the bottom. No way to see it on the 3″ camera screen, but it was very apparent when viewed on a computer. After an investigation with Sony reps, they figured it was a hardware issue. The camera is out of warranty, and I’m out $200.

    2. “The store does not want to exchange a sale item and then have the customer go to another store and get a refund for the full price.” I don’t see how that can be done. You don’t get a new purchase receipt with the camera you get on exchange. The rep should open the box to make sure the camera works — so you are left with pretty much the same package, but with a working camera.

    Now, if your moral compass is asleep, you could try to return WITHOUT a receipt for store-credit, claiming that you “just” bought the camera for the higher price. Stores have policies on that — they usually give you the lowest price for the past N weeks. So you wait those N weeks after the sale is over. There is also the M% restocking fee, but you may still end up “ahead”. Well, you can do all that with the old, broken camera — so there’s no need to exchange.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I agree. And I’ve had cases with Target where I bought something on sale that ended up being defective and made a return after the sale was over and I never paid another cent. I don’t think I’ve ever ran into a case anywhere where a defective item couldn’t be exchanged for the exact same item regardless of what the current pricing was. I can only guess it wasn’t the exact same camera they wanted to exchange for.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I think you hit the nail on the head. I’ve never ran into a case anywhere where you couldn’t straight across exchange a defective item for the same item, regardless of what the current price was. But the key is being able to prove you purchased it at the store.

  • sirwired

    Without a receipt, they don’t have to do a thing… The fact that she even got what she did was likely an exception. Not doing exchanges seems reasonable.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Where are you getting that they’re making up rules as they go along? He posted that you have to make returns within 30 days. And to account for holiday gifts, they don’t start the 30 day clock until Dec. 26 for any sales from Nov. 1 through Christmas. There’s nothing in the original story about whether the OP made the 30-day-window or not, though it would appear they must of since Target allowed the return and didn’t just tell them “sorry, take up your defect with the manufacturer.”

  • bodega3

    Costco has an amazing return policy. With you memberhship number, they have access to all your purchases, so yes, even without a receipt, you can return an item.
    I, too, am wondering if a receipt was presented to Target, hence the reason for only being given compensation on the sale price. Other stores do this, too.
    Also, isn’t the title of this article unfair to Target? They didn’t ruin the photos.

  • Frank Windows

    Seems a bit suspicious that Target would not offer a direct replacement for a camera that was truly defective. Then again, most electronics include a piece of paper that says “If this product is defective, DO NOT RETURN IT TO THE STORE. Call us.” Target was within their rights to handle this as a warranty situation. Instead, they bought him off to avoid publicity.

    FWIW, we don’t spend much money at Target any more. We stopped shopping there in the wake of the Tom Emmer thing, and haven’t had much need to go back.

  • Frank Windows

    Er, my point (about suspicion) is that there’s more to this story than Mr. Caulfield is telling you.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I’ve always had excellent luck with Target, as well. But cash transactions are pretty much untrackable for them (like most places) so you’ll need a receipt in those cases to prove it actually came from them. I agree with you about how it likely went down… How many returns and exchanges must a Target do a day? It’s totally routine and the manager and loss prevention wouldn’t get involved unless something nasty happened.

  • JenniferFinger

    Yeah, this one puzzles me. Target’s return policies are pretty clear-cut, but his desire to exchange the camera for a working one is reasonable too. Do we know what really happened with the telephone calls? Sure, it’s completely wrong for a customer service rep to just hang up on a customer, but is there evidence, like a quality assurance recording, that backs up his side of the story that that’s what happened and that the other persons he dealt with were rude and condescending? Otherwise it sounds a lot like a he-said, he-said.

  • Dutchess

    I pretty much refuse to shop for anything at Target above and beyond household cleaning items and my prescriptions. I bought a digital picture frame from them about 5 years ago (when they first came out). I brought it home and it appeared the dim switch wasn’t working. I brought it back for another and didn’t check in the store and the second one wasn’t working either. I went to return it and BAM…sorry “sir you can’t return this because you’ve returned too many items”. I had never made any other returns to Target before this.

    These types of policies suck, and I’ve never been in a situation where they wouldn’t do an even exchange for a product even if the price had changed. Target only did the right thing here because Chris got involved. I still won’t be making any big purchases at Target for this very reason.

  • emanon256

    I am not saying this was what happened here, but when I supervised a call center our policy was if the customer curses or yells, the employee should give them one warning that if they raise their voice or curse again we will disconnected the call immediately. If they do it again, the employee can then hang up, even if its mid sentence.

  • emanon256

    My target has a big poster on their wall that says no exchanges or refunds on sale items without original receipt. I wonder if that’s what happened?

    I once tried to return a GPS for which I lost the receipt and they would only give me a gift card valid for the lowest price the item had been (What I paid when it was on sale), even though it was more now. I didn’t want an exchange, I wanted a refund. I shop a lot at target, so I know we would still use the gift card. And I still got 100% of what I paid back, so I was happy. And I knew it was my own fault for not keeping the receipt.

  • emanon256

    So what I got out of the story is the customer bought a camera for, lets just say $199 (all that matters in the difference). They returned it and got a gift card for $199 and were not happy. After enough complaining and involving Chris, they got another gift card for $100. So they basically made $100 scamming Target? Am I reading it right? If thats the case, than it sickens me.

  • Elmo Clarity

    Where am I getting that they made up a rule? Based on what Tony posted as their return policy, there is nothing that say the customer has to make up the price difference as the OP claims they were requiring.

    There is a lot of details missing in this story so it is really difficult to come to any type of conclusion as to what really happened.

  • Alex

    I have had this same issue with my Target store. For some reason I can’t follow they really balk at exchanging products, even if its just a size exchange. They ALWAYS want yo give me a gift card and tell me to go repurchase the item. When I have fought them based on the same reasoning, that the item is now more expensive than when I purchased it, I get lots of resistance! I think its weird, but it keeps happening. The last time it took me asking for a manager to be allowed to exchange an item of clothing for a different size.

  • DavidYoung2

    Something smells fishy here. I’ve been a Target customer for a long time and noting even close to this has happened to me. Now, I’ll also disconnect a call if somebody is yelling and profane, although I will say, “I’m disconnecting the call now because this appears to be getting worse, not better.” Click.

  • TonyA_says

    My understanding of ITEMS MUST BE RETURNED is you must *return* the item and get back your original purchase price.

    It does not say you can exchange these electronic items.
    So I guess if you bought a camera on sale and wanted to exchange it (within 30 days), all you can do is return the camera first and then buy a new one.

    I rarely shop at Target so I can’t be sure exactly how to return stuff there. But Costco does not have an exchange policy. You need to return the item you bought, they give you back your money and then you need to buy whatever you want. That means you cannot buy the same exact type of item at the OLD price. You have to buy it at the current price is you want another one.

    If the price goes down, you win. If they price goes up, then you lose but you end up with a new item.

  • TonyA_says

    It may have something to do with revenue and inventory control.
    That is the same way Costco handles returns. You may not exchange. You can only return.

  • TonyA_says

    Yes even without a receipt. I was just there yesterday. As bodega says all they need is your member number. I have seen people return FOOD and VEGGIES in Costco and they don’t ask questions.

  • bodega3

    It keeps happening? Then why are you shopping at a store that you don’t like their policies?

  • Paulette_B

    I also have never had a problem with Target, and as another poster noted, we have only the OP’s version of how his interactions with the customer service reps actually went. Most retailers have strict policies on electronics returns to protect themselves against customers who purchase a camera to record a special occasion and then try to return it after the event. I saw this happen inumerable times during my years in retail. And if the defective camera was outside the store return time frame, then it was indeed a manufacturer’s issue, not Target’s.

    An even more important issue to me, however, is why anyone in his right mind would take a new, untried camera on something as important as a honeymoon? When I first moved to digital, I carried two camera bodies (same system; same lenses), one film and one digital, until I was sure the digital camera was going to produce the results I wanted.

  • Lindabator

    I think the point here, though, is the one I immediately came to – WHY not check it BEFORE the big day?

  • emanon256

    The Targets I usually go to have always suggest that if I have other shopping to do that they can just give me a gift card and I re-buy the item. However when I have asked if I can just exchange it, they have always told me to leave my item at the service desk, and bring back the new item and they will process the exchange. I usually have a the receipt though. I just exchanged a clothing item for a different size this weekend. As I travel a lot, I go to a lot of Targets, and have had the exact same uniform experience across the board, that’s why I always seek them out.

  • emanon256

    Every time I have returned an item without a receipt at a Target, they always enter my drivers license into the computer and tell me that I am limited two 2 returns without a receipt per calendar year. They have been telling me this for 10+ years. Perchance did you not have a receipt?

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Once upon a time, Target was the child of the Dayton-Hudson Company, the finest retailer in the world; other establishments sent their people to Minneapolis for training in how to run a store properly … and treat their customers well, very well. If Target won’t exchange a defective item and make this guy whole, there must be more to the story.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Sounds like Target jacked him around quite a bit. The eventual compensation feels fair.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m not sure that’s legally correct. I believe that the store breaches its contract by selling defective goods and thus has to return or replace it. Joe?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Why would you do that? You would expect an item bought from a reputable manuacturer like Target to work or have an easy exchange. Now, if you bough it from the “As Is” table, that would be different

  • TonyA_says

    I think the reason Costco does this is because you return upfront near the exit (or entrance) and there is no way to pick an item inside without going through the check out lanes.

    BTW when I lived in Memphis and later in Sacramento, I never had a problem returning anything at Target. They are an excellent source for kids stuff.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    haha. “Halfway through this crate of strawberries, I discovered there was something wrong with them…”

  • $16635417

    I returned a Wii to Target a few years ago. No need for loss prevention, store management, or the Pope to get involved…I just got my money back. I may be wrong, but I sense the version we’re hearing is a sanitized recap of what transpired.

  • bodega3

    Well if you don’t have the receipt and it is past the 30 day cut off, at least it is an option. We have sold items that we will not handle after purchase, period. We clearly state that all sales are final, any problems you have to deal with the company that made the product. And people still buy the item.

  • bodega3

    But if you don’t have proof of purchase, then SOL.

    We have sold items that we clearly state, all sales are final. Any problems are dealt with the company who made the products, using the warranty that comes with the product. If you buy solely on price and don’t pay attention to the store’s return policy, you aren’t being a good shopper!

  • bodega3

    Why wouldn’t you do that? Check it out, see how it works BEFORE takikng those memorable, once in a lifetime photos. Seems like a fairly obvious thing to do!

  • Dutchess

    It was the same day, and with a receipt. Michael’s has started doing this to. They refused the lady in front of me in line and gave her the excuse “It’s a third party company, contact them, it’s out of our hands”

    It’s all BS, If you have a valid receipt and you need to return something unused you should be able to.

  • bodega3

    I always ask a store, if I am new to shopping there, what their return policy is, if it isn’t posted where I am asking the employee. There is no law that in CA that makes all stores have the same policy.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Amen. And it’s not even just to catch defects in the camera but to familiarize yourself with how it works. I’ve known people who had difficulty working the autofocus from one camera to the next because one was a bit more sensitive. They got a new camera and were complaining to me how everything was out-of-focus. They handed it to me and it was working fine, but they apparently weren’t all that steady holding it and it was quicker to refocus than their old one had been.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Target will also take returns without a receipt. But since they don’t have a membership card to pin purchases to, it needs to be on a credit card so they can track it. A cash purchase means you’ll always need a receipt because there’s no way to verify the purchase was from them.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    For regular items I will agree with you, but Michael’s sells a ton of seasonal stuff and returns on seasonal items are a totally different ballgame. People will buy up a ton of Christmas garland in December and want to return the extra in January. That doesn’t work for the store for obvious reasons.

  • Bill___A

    This looks to me like the customer did not have a receipt showing the original price paid. It is unusual for a retailer to refuse to exchange a defective camera of the same model regardless of the price paid. I therefore assume there is more to the story that is not being told here.
    As for “ruining the honeymoon”, make sure you bring more than one camera. Anytime you leave yourself open to a single point of failure, you’re asking for trouble.
    From what I understand, Target is a fair and reputable retailer. Something is clearly amiss here.

  • Josh S

    When I worked in a call center, there were two reasons we could hang up on a customer. The first was only after saying something like, “Sir/Ma’am, it is inappropriate to use profane or vulgar language. If you continue to do so, I will be forced to note that on your account and end the call.” Usually that got them to behave.

    The second was if they threatened me/the call center/our client in any way. We’d pull out similar language: “Sir/Ma’am, we are instructed to take every threat seriously, so if you continue with your threatening language, we will report it to the appropriate authorities and I will end the call. As a reminder, this call is being recorded.” Which again, usually got them to behave.

    In either case, if the caller did not shape up immediately, we hung up the call. Dealing with an irate and frustrated caller is one thing (let them shout until they’re finished, then help them), but suffering threats or profanity was a deal-breaker.

  • Crissy

    It really sounds like there is something missing from this story. Also, did they try contacting the manufacturer, any camera bought will come with a manufacturer warranty for at least 30 days, often much longer.

  • Mel65

    My fave story from working retail was for a store w/ a “no hassle return” policy. A woman wanted to return a plaid wool blazer with no receipt. I asked when she had bought it and she said November. Mind you this is now JUNE. I asked if the item was defective, as it looked perfectly fine. She said no, so I asked “Why are you returning it?” She said, “It’s too warm to wear it now.” She got her money…